Early in the fourth quarter with the Pistons down by 14 points, Will Bynum grabbed a loose ball and beat Chicago downcourt for a layup. Chicago immediately in-bounded the ball and Derrick Rose found Taj Gibson behind the defense for a dunk.
Lawrence Frank immediately called timeout, turned bright red and stormed away from Detroit’s bench in disgust.
The play obviously wasn’t a significant one in the game, but it represented the most stark contrast between this year’s team and last year’s. How many times last season did we see lazy defensive plays like that in games the Pistons were losing by double figures in? How many times after those plays did cameras pan to an apathetic John Kuester blankly staring off into space?
I’m sure Kuester was upset in those instances. I’m sure any coach who cares about players respecting the game would be upset. I’m under no illusion that Frank is some type of miracle worker. His task is a daunting one. Like his predecessors, Kuester and Michael Curry, his rhetoric before the season was good. Unlike his predecessors, he at the very least seems to be delivering a message of what is acceptable basketball and what isn’t.
The Pistons lost big to Chicago and were never really in the game. The Bulls didn’t play their best, particularly early on when Joakim Noah was inexplicably waving teammates away to that he could take his man off the dribble and air-balling 18-footers. But the Pistons combined a poor effort shooting from the perimeter with difficulty converting some of the clean looks around the basket Chicago gave early, sprinkled in some poor shot selection and quickly stalled a couple late mini-runs with sloppy passing and turnovers. Detroit has proven early in the season they will play hard and are capable of competing with good teams. They have to be near flawless to do it though, and the Pistons were far from it.
The team has been blown out by good teams plenty over the last two seasons. There wasn’t much positive to take away from this game, but I still can’t deny that I feel much more positive about the direction the team is heading than I did after the first two games of the season.
Moose out-plays Noah
There are still a few areas where Greg Monroe struggles, but those are becoming less noticeable by the game. Monroe finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and a block against Chicago. He would’ve been near a triple double if his teammates didn’t shoot 41 percent (including 16 percent from 3-point range). He was solid on defense early, starting the game on Carlos Boozer and holding him to 2-for-6 shooting in the first quarter. Boozer got it going later and led all scorers with 19, but by then, the entire defense had been broken down to account for Derrick Rose’s slashing and others were guarding Boozer.
Offensively, he scored out of the post. He faced up and put the ball on the floor — including one really nice blow-by and layup with Noah, a good one-on-one defender, guarding him. He looked for cutters, he found open shooters on the perimeter and he still did what he always does, crashed the offensive glass, collecting five offensive rebounds.
He matched the activity of the notoriously active Noah, who finished with 9 points and 11 rebounds (but also turned it over five times because Noah was a little too active on offense). After a rookie season where Monroe showed remarkable improvement on a game-to-game basis, I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s continued that upward trend this year. I keep expecting him to plateau at some point and he keeps getting better.
Brandon Knight is overmatched
Knight got his first look as the top point guard at the start of the second half. Rodney Stuckey injured his groin late in the first half, so Knight started the third quarter. His performance wasn’t pretty.
There was a great sequence in that third with Rose guarding Knight and Knight trying to get into the lane to try and get off his floater. Rose wouldn’t let him get where he wanted and forced Knight into an awkward 16-foot or so floater that ended up about two feet short of the rim. I think anyone watching would look at a floater — a notoriously hard shot to perfect outside of close range — from that far out as a crazy shot that no one should work on adding to their repertoire. Then a couple possessions later, we saw why Knight, and presumably a lot of young guards of all ages, work on that shot: Rose launched a floater from about the same spot on floor, only his was on target. So thanks, Derrick Rose, for teaching a generation of guards to take a shot that only a once-in-a-lifetime type athlete can hit.
Knight is a 20-year-old rookie and was matched up against the league MVP and one of the strongest guards in the league, so no one should’ve been expecting him to get the best of that matchup. He finished with 4 points on 2-for-9 shooting with 1 assist and 1 turnover. He had a couple of nice possessions where he got in the lane and got himself good shots that he was comfortable with. He also missed two open 3-pointers, shots that will presumably be more consistent for him as time goes on. Knight is an exciting, talented young player, but the Pistons still need Stuckey in the lineup.
Let’s slow it down, Will Bynum
As Frank said earlier this week, the Bynum is a nice insurance policy on the bench. With Stuckey hurt, the Pistons needed an extra point guard. But as was the case so many times the last two seasons with Bynum’s role/minutes fluctuating so drastically, he came off the bench like a bat out of hell in only the third game he’s made it into this season. Bynum’s biggest problem was a familiar one: his passing. Twice in the fourth quarter, he was running pick and roll plays with Jonas Jerebko. Bynum used the screen, Jerebko slid to the top of the key where he had an open jumper and Bynum delivered bounce passes back to Jerebko … about three feet wider than where Jerebko was spotting up. Those plays didn’t result in turnovers, but they also took away any chance for the Pistons to score as Jerebko had to scramble to coral the ball. Bynum also turned it over three times, two of which resulted in him getting caught in the air with no one to pass to.
The thing is, though, Bynum actually scored the ball efficiently, something the Pistons could really use off their bench. Stuckey, Knight and Ben Gordon all struggled with their shots. None had much success taking the ball straight at the defense. Bynum, always fearless in that regard, scored 10 quick points on 5-for-9 shooting and, despite a huge height difference between he and Rose, didn’t do too badly defensively. Maybe the problem is the Pistons need to simply stop thinking about Bynum as the third point guard. He’s probably not a player who there is a use for in every game, but there certainly has to be instances when his main skills, getting the basket and speeding up the game, can come in handy. The Pistons don’t have anyone else on their bench giving any kind of offensive punch, so it might come to that at some point.
Gordon was too small
Gordon’s final stats were ugly, and the Gordon detractors, I’m sure, will be out en masse after this performance. He was bad, and I wouldn’t say otherwise, but it’s somewhat understandable given his limitations as a player.
First, he always has pressed against Chicago, his former team. But more importantly, he’s just way too small compared to Chicago’s guards. He was guarded at different times by tall SGs Rip Hamilton and Ronnie Brewer. When he tried to create off the dribble, another lanky defender, Luol Deng, or a big point guard, Rose, were there to give help.
Gordon is a wildly streaky player and has been throughout his career. I expect that he’ll have more games like this during the season, but I also expect him to have more great offensive performances as well. He’s not a difficult player for good defensive teams to stop, so that will pose a problem for the Pistons all season.
Damien Wilkins cementing his spot in the rotation
Other than Monroe, the best Piston on the floor was Wilkins. Since moving into the rotation as a backup wing in place of the ineffective Austin Daye, Wilkins has made hustle plays and been solid defensively. Against Chicago, he added some offense, scoring 10 points (5-for-7 shooting) with 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Daye’s biggest asset to get back into the rotation is the fact that his skillset is shooting and the second unit has had virtually no offense. If Wilkins gives some hustle points along with his superior defense, it’s going to be even harder to for Daye to get his spot back.
Thankfully for Daye, Charlie Villanueva played five more horrible minutes. Beating out Villanueva might be Daye’s best chance to earn back some minutes.
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